Rob Gronkowski was far and away the best tight end of 2011. He scored 18 touchdowns – 5 more than any tight end has ever scored in a single season. He recorded 1327 receiving yards – also the highest total ever for a TE. Of course he has to be the top fantasy TE of 2012 right? Well, not so fast. There’s another TE in New England that could overtake Gronk as Tom Brady‘s favorite target.
Here’s my thinking: Rob Gronkowski was not a known commodity before 2011. When teams faced the Patriots they were gearing up to stop Wes Welker and Deion Branch – receivers that had proven themselves in the past. Now that Gronkowski had such a historic 2011 you have to believe that every defensive game plan is going to be focused on slowing him down. Enter Aaron Hernandez. He was no slouch himself in 2011 with 910 yards and 7 touchdowns. Let’s take a look a little bit deeper into the stats to see how different the 2 TE’s really were. One of the biggest factors in a tight end’s fantasy value is the number of targets they get in the red zone. Here’s a look at all receivers in 2011 sorted by targets inside the opponents 20 yard line.
Not surprisingly Jimmy Graham and Gronkowski were the 2 most targeted tight ends in the red zone and they finished 1-2 in fantasy scoring. However, Aaron Hernandez was right behind Gronk with only 1 less red zone target. The difference was that Gronkowski caught the ball at a better percentage and made it into the end zone twice as often as Hernandez. Touchdowns are always very volatile and those numbers could easily flip from year to year.
When you look even further into the red zone at targets within the 10 yard line or closer – Aaron Hernandez blows away the competition. He had almost twice as many targets as Gronk from inside the 10. He just didn’t hit paydirt as often.
With defenses focused more on stopping Gronkowski and Tom Brady continuing to trust Hernandez more and more I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as one of the top 2 tight ends in fantasy football by the end of the year.